Appearances and the Hiring of the UW-Madison Athletic Director: A Finger on the Scale
Dr. Ruben Anthony Jr., the CEO of the Urban League of Greater Madison served as the deputy secretary of the WI Dept. of Transportation during the Doyle Administration.
Part 2 of 2
By Jonathan Gramling
One of the most critical hires that UW Chancellor Rebecca Blank has made in the past year — and there have been many — is the hiring of the UW-Madison athletic director. The athletic director oversees a $139 million department that is responsible for the approximately 900 student athletes in 23 sports and the coaches and support staff for these sports.
When Barry Alvarez, the former athletic director, announced his retirement last spring, it set in motion a UW hiring process regulated by federal and state laws that are designed to ensure that there is equal employment opportunity, but also
the appearance of equal employment opportunity. That may not have happened.
While Chris McIntosh, who was announced as UW-Madison’s next athletic director on June 2nd by Chancellor Rebecca Blank — and was very publically Barry Alvarez’s clear choice for the position — it didn’t come as a surprise. What was left to wonder was McIntosh best suited to lead the athletic department in the eyes of Blank and the search committee or in the eyes of Alvarez.
“Barry has a lot of power,” said Dr. Ruben Anthony Jr., CEO of the Urban League of Greater Madison. “When Barry speaks, people listen. If Barry wants something to happen, we see that he gets that. I don’t take anything away from Barry Alvarez. He was a great coach. Barry was a great athletic director. Barry is Goliath. That’s a lot of pressure even on the Chancellor. That’s a lot of political pressure even on the Chancellor. It’s unfortunate that an employee of the athletic department would tamper with the process the way that Barry did. And for no one from the university to publically make a statement to say, ‘Stop it Barry,’ was not right.”
If the choice had been anyone but McIntosh, it would have left a lot of people wondering.
“Who would want to go against Barry when he already has the public set on the candidate that should be chosen,” Anthony asked. “Barry has the boosters and the Badger fans expecting it would be McIntosh even before the process started and during the process. He got everyone thinking that McIntosh was the person. Just imagine the other people who participated in the process, the finalists who competed and the risk that they took in their current jobs going after this position thinking it was going to be a fair process and then having Barry put his finger on the scale throughout the process to get the outcome that Barry said would happen.”
Equal opportunity is dependent upon the perception of equal opportunity. If it is perceived that certain classes of people don’t have a chance, then there will be a reluctance to apply. And the perception can have other ramifications.
“This is bigger than just this one selection,” Anthony said. “This is the whole thing in the athletic department. In the athletic department, in the equity, diversity and inclusion department, there is no one left there except Michael Jackson who is the director of the department. Someone should be asking that question, ‘Why is that? Why are some folks leaving? Why did the student athletes protest and why did the Black coaches protest along with these student athletes?’ They said things were not working perfectly at the university. Many associate and assistant coaches left for equivalent jobs at other universities. Why is that? Why do we think everything is going well when we’re hearing directly and privately from some student athletes and former coaches that things are going wrong? People are leaving like it is a sinking ship that is on fire. They are getting out of there and then we see for ourselves a violation of the hiring process and then we think things are fine. I just don’t get it.”
While there was no pressure or suggestion brought to bear that he not speak out, given the inherent power of the actors in this incident, many people felt reluctant to speak out.
“I hear from people that I stepped on the wrong toes this time,” Anthony said. “Injustice anywhere threatens justice everywhere. And I feel that having a ‘good old boys’ system exist at one of my alma maters, I speak out as a person who graduated from the University of Wisconsin. If I can’t tell you that I am not happy — I’m not the big booster, but I think I have made some reputation contributions to the university. I think I’ve put some sweat equity into the university participating on panels and anything they’ve asked me to do. And then I’m supposed to turn a blind eye to the fact that the university brought a process that looked like it had gone afoul. Let them answer the questions. Tell us the process didn’t go afoul. Tell us why no one scorned Barry about doing what he did publically. I never heard a public warning or scolding of Barry to tell him to stop doing what he was doing. Maybe it was done privately. I don’t know. But he did it publically. He just changed the whole expectation for the outcome. If they had not delivered that outcome that Barry wanted, everyone knows that would have been problematic. The whole situation stinks.”
Since the decision and the criticism of the process, the Chancellor and the athletic department have reached out to Anthony and other leaders in the African American community.
“I’ve talked with the Chancellor and I won’t reveal my conversation,” Anthony said. “But she called and we talked. McIntosh has reached out and wants to meet. Several community members and I will meet with him. One of the things that we want to make clear is that it’s not about McIntosh. It’s about the process and it’s about athletics at UW-Madison.”
While critiquing the policies and the practices of major, powerful institutions can be very stressful and intimidating at times, it still needs to be done.
“If you don’t speak out, then it is business as usual,” Anthony emphasized.
Hopefully this will be a lesson learned for all parties involved.
By State Superintendent of Education Carolyn Stanford Taylor
As I reflect on my 41 years in education, I am reminded of how crucial it is for all young people to have the supports and resources they need to be successful in school and life.
Growing up in Mississippi during the Civil Rights era, I was one of 14 children in our family. We lived in poverty, surrounded by a racially segregated environment. By today’s standards, I would have been considered at-risk. Although our family did not have much financially, we had nurturing parents who, even with limited educational attainment, realized the value of education and saw it as our passport to a better future.
Despite certain adults in our school having disdain for us because of the color of our skin, my brothers, sisters, and I went home to encouraging parents who told us we could be anything we wanted.
Wisconsin Students Deserve the Best
Fueled by the inequities and injustices I saw and experienced as a child, I desired to be an educator. I wanted to make a positive change and impact the lives of others. I wanted to make sure those who looked like me did not succumb to the feelings of inadequacy that others tried to impose on me.
My upbringing and lived experiences shaped me and sparked a passion early on in my life, which has never wavered. As a teacher for a decade and then a principal for 11 years in the Madison Metropolitan School District, the principles of equity and advocacy became my North Star. I brought those same goals to the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction in 2001, where I served as an assistant state superintendent. In 2019, I was presented with the opportunity of a lifetime when Gov. Tony Evers appointed me to be Wisconsin’s first Black state superintendent. I am proud of the department’s efforts during my time in office to apply the principles of equity and advocacy so all Wisconsin students might experience success.
Early on as state superintendent, I recall an occasion, which touched me deeply and re-emphasized my mission. A small group of young women approached me with tears in their eyes telling me the impact seeing a Black woman in a statewide leadership position had on them. This moment served as an important reminder why a young girl from Mississippi chose to devote her life to education and helping others.
Serving as the chief advocate for Wisconsin schools has allowed me to use my voice to support all youth, especially the underserved; those who have not had the same opportunities or access as others. At the same time, being the state superintendent has put me in a unique position to see our young people finding their own voices, becoming leaders and critical thinkers, and pushing for change in their communities.
I am proud of the strides we have made, but our state still has miles to go. Wisconsin cannot continue to have the widest achievement gap in the nation. As a state, we must do more to support our most underserved students - children of color, those living in poverty, those with different abilities, our LGBTQ students, English language learners, our gifted students, and so many more. I know Wisconsin can be better.
Reducing and removing barriers to our students’ success should be our common goal. Activist Marian Wright Edelman once said, “Education is for improving the lives of others and for leaving your community and world better than you found it.” No one should have to be convinced that supporting our children and their education is the right thing to do. We all have a vested interest in the outcomes of our young people.
I want to express my gratitude to all of those who have helped me throughout my career and have worked to put our students first. I thank each of our educators for taking on the incredible responsibility of instilling a lifelong love of learning in our students and remaining committed to each of them. I applaud our parents and families for providing our children with love and encouragement, like my parents did for our family.
As I retire from my formal role in the coming weeks, I remain dedicated to our children and will stay engaged in ensuring they have what they need when they need it. Our state can only achieve this vision when our leaders and our communities put differences aside and work in unity to make a change in the name of our children. All of Wisconsin’s students deserve us showing up as the best versions of ourselves.
Carolyn Stanford Taylor stepped down as state superintendent of schools on June 30, 2021